The cold-blooded murder of 50-year-old Walter Scott by South Carolina police officer Michael Slager is only the latest in a long list of civilian murders by law enforcers.
That list, of course, locally includes Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams, and Brandon Jones. Among other things, Walter Scott's death means we can start including Charleston
when we begin stories about police brutality with an invocation of city names: Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland...
The violence certainly doesn't appear to be ebbing, despite increased media attention and judicial scrutiny. And Mayor Frank Jackson and co. don't appear to be deliberating with anything like urgency as they continue to negotiate a Consent Decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. The resulting binding agreement, Jackson has said, should be aimed at the root causes of social inequity, though he has yet to say how.
Meantime, the local branch of the national Puncture the Silence-Stop Mass Incarceration Network is gearing up for another disruptive action on April 14. It will likely take the same form as the marches and protests Cleveland saw in October and November, in the immediate wake of Tamir Rice's shooting.
Though local organizer Carol Steiner says the action itself is still "under wraps," activists are hosting a "People's Tribunal on Police Brutality" Saturday afternoon at Cleveland State in preparation. It will be free and open to the public. The goal of the tribunal, organizers say, is to let victims of police abuse tell their stories to a distinguished panel. The panel will include Oscar Grant's uncle Bobby Johnson, in town from Oakland.
"This is fundamentally different from the 'listening tours' or hearings conducted by those in authority," Steiner wrote in a press release. "A People's Tribunal allows those seeking justice to decide what to do with the testimony. It also shows people that there is a movement that wants to hear their stories and use them to advance the struggle for justice."
What will they
do with the stories they hear, it occurred to Scene
Steiner said there are many things they could do, but preparing a "comprehensive report" — unlike, in her view, the document produced by and for City Council last week
— and sharing it with the Mayor and national human rights groups will be an early step.
Though the tone of last week's listening tour report was optimistic, organizers seemed unconvinced that the results would meaningfully drive public policy or the city's public safety agenda:
"The tours were illegitimate," said longtime activist and Revolution Books czar Bill Swain (who will also be on Saturday's panel). "All you're trying to do is bullshit people and give them patronizing stuff."
Genevieve Mitchell, Director of the Black Women's Center, attended all four Listening Tour events. She said she thought they were tribunals of their own.
"People got to express with deep passion the abuse they've experienced at the hands of police. It was very profound," Mitchell said. "But that was not reflected in the book that was disseminated down at City Hall."
Most organizers feel that even the Consent Decree won't make much of an impact on the relationship between police officers and citizens. In a group conversation Tuesday afternoon, the prevailing interpretation of that document was as a mechanism to "modify the angst" of an outraged community.
"I'm trying to think of a solution, then," Scene
interjected, "short of abolishing the police force totally."
"That recommendation has been floated in the community," Mitchell responded.
Steiner, Mitchell, Swain and other organizers, including Tamir Rice's uncle Frederick Gladden, announced Saturday's tribunal outside the CSU Main Classroom building Tuesday afternoon. In the chilly rain, Mitchell read from a prepared statement:
"We can not allow the ocean of complacency and violence...to drown us before we reach the shoreline of freedom justice and equality," she said. "...The solution to America's grounding, then, is rooted in each and every one of us making an effort to row toward the shores of hope, swim towards the lighthouse of racial justice and paddle to the shoreline of human equality."
Those with an interest in testifying at the Tribunal Saturday should call (216) 396-8329. The Tribunal will take place from 12-4 p.m. in Rm. 201 of CSU's Main Classroom Building.